The Risk Covid-19 Places on Essential Services

Well, it certainly feels like we’ve jumped out of the fires and into the frying pan.

Covid-19 or Coronavirus is creating headaches for everyone; from business owners to government decision makers. At the time of writing, 750 Australians have been affected by the virus, with 7 deaths. Shops are shutting down, crowds in public areas are dwindling, and many cafes, bars and restaurants have seen customer numbers collapse.

People are starting to panic and it’s translating into erratic behaviour, including this rather unfortunate scrap at a local Countdown over a pack of toilet paper.

There have been reports of mass job layoffs in all types of industries, especially in the tourism industry as more countries shut their borders. Government sanctioned limitations are causing widespread cancellations of events big and small across the country.

It has been a long time since Australia (and the world) has faced a something like this. The Coronavirus pandemic is the most profound event that has happened in my lifetime. I have never seen an AFL game with no crowds, nor did I ever think I would.

The thing that struck me since the self-isolation rules and infection rates began to rise got me thinking. What happens if a significant portion of the ambulance, police or fire service workers need to be isolated for a period of time?

It’s not as farfetched as it sounds. These are the people on the front line trying to contain the rapid spread of this terrible disease and it makes them particularly vulnerable.

My partner is a paramedic and spends long shifts working with potentially infected people.  Even with the strict protocols and standard operating procedures, there is an elevated risk of being infected and spreading the infection as there are no obvious symptoms for the initial incubation period.

On top of this, I am a full-time firefighter and the nature of my work is very public facing. At times, I do get called upon to respond to medical emergencies. Because my partner and I live together, our risk of infection is greatly elevated and means we might not be able to attend work for an extended period of time. We don’t work in jobs that allow us to work from home, no. If we’re not out on the front line, we’re not doing our job.

What would a severely depleted essential services outfit look like then? And what are the likely or probable consequences of this ever-increasing possible reality?

One challenge which may affect communities really hard is if a local firefighter or policeman in your community is diagnosed with virus. If an entire fire station or police station needs to be quarantined because someone is infected, it will hugely affect the fire services ability to serve the communities which they are in, especially smaller towns. This happened in San Jose just the other day, when a reserve police officer in San Jose tested positive for Covid-19. The consequence was that 20 fulltime and reserve officers who had contact with the affected officer were ordered to quarantine and self-isolate. San Jose is a big city and can call on extra resources, but smaller municipalities may not have the same advantages.

Anything is possible at this stage of the pandemic. We may be able to stem the spread of infection to a point where we never see the worst-case scenario. This also may not be enough and elevate the need to prioritise and triage emergencies in a more cutthroat manner to ensure the use of the diminished resources is as effective as possible.

In such a short period of time this seemingly insignificant event has enlightened me to the possibility of a number of more serious things becoming reality.

The need for people that are able to take as much responsibility for themselves and their loved ones seems paramount so we can work through this large-scale issue and gain some positive resilience and outcomes in the face of something with such potential catastrophic economic, health and wellbeing repercussions.


Written by Brent Clayton

Brent is an active firefighter and the CEO of Fire Recruitment Australia. You find out more about Brent here.

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